Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Reader: Bernie Brown
Location: Townhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina
Collection size: About 250 in this bookshelf. The same number scattered throughout the house on other shelves.
Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene. This nonfiction book tells the story of the women of North Platte, Nebraska during World War II and the thousands of troops they served at the Railroad Depot Canteen. The canteen was funded and staffed entirely by volunteers. They met every single troop train, every single day of every single year of the war, from five in the morning until after midnight every night feeding them what might be their last homemade meal as they made their way to the war in Europe. The men who remember stopping there tell how in the coldest battlefields, on the darkest of nights, they shared treasured memories of that meal in that town when they were scared and leaving home, maybe never to return. The book makes my heart sing with pride to be an American, especially a Midwesterner.
Favorite book from childhood: All The Bobbsey Twins books by Laura Lee Hope.
No, I Don't Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside. Not a bestseller, not by a famous author, just a quirky book I found in a used bookshop that I reach for when I want to laugh. It is the fictional diary of a British art school teacher as she turns sixty and retires. She celebrates this milestone by taking a stand on all the personal things people tell her she "should" do that she doesn't want to do, among them joining a book club, learning a foreign language, and doing volunteer work. She also shares the joys and fears of becoming a grandmother and renewing old friendships and making new ones. It is a laugh and cry kind of book that never fails to engross me.
I replied to a post of David Abrams about bookshelf arrangement by announcing that my bookshelf had no arrangement, by arrangement. A nice inviting jumble gives my book collection any order it might have. He responded by suggesting I tell all in a My Library blog post. Here goes.
My custom- built, arched, and lighted bookshelf showcases my books, DVDs, and treasured old photos. Above the top shelf the lights shine on a framed greeting card featuring a picture of a woman whose face is hidden by the book she is reading. A quote by Evelyn Waugh declares that any young woman who reads a novel before luncheon is committing one of the grossest sins.
Little pockets of order do exist within the greater disarray. On the top shelf, all of Peter Mayle’s books wait to satisfy my hunger for stories of French travel, food, and wine. Stacked willy-nilly on the left side and piled up in a second stack two shelves down are titles written and inscribed by writer friends. David Abrams’ Fobbit is there hiding behind the arch.
But most of the other titles reside happily as next-door neighbors to unlikely companions. Leslie Caron’s autobiography Thank Heaven snuggles up to Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. I like to imagine what the ballerina from Paris and the goofy guy from Iowa might talk about. Maybe Leslie, like Bill, enjoys a cold beer, and Bill has always secretly longed to speak French.
The Great Gatsby sits shoulder-to-shoulder with A Child’s Garden of Verses. One wonders if Jay Gatsby might have read "The Swing" to Daisy during an afternoon in Nick Carraway’s flower-bedecked bungalow. Child-like Daisy would have been charmed.
On the third shelf down you can see a collection of miniature books. Imagine how delighted I was when I found miniature bookends to keep them tidy. Among the miniatures are six Little Golden Books. Remember The Tawny, Scrawny Lion? I am especially proud of two others, a tiny collection of Elvis pictures and trivia and a midget book of graph paper. Why graph paper? I can’t explain it.
The To-Be-Read stacks are the most jumbled of all. Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister, Lydia Netzer’s How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky—which, by the way, wins the award for best title ever—and Anne Barnhill’s Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter all ensure that I will be sinning (think Evelyn Waugh) in the best of company.
There are infinite possibilities that this cheerful juxtaposition of titles can produce, such is the beauty of the no-arrangement arrangement. The best thing about it is that if books have no set order then they are never out-of-order and never have to be straightened up.
My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections. Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.
Some Luck, which came out last month, is the first in a planned trilogy called "The Last Hundred Years." The next volume in the series, Early Warning, is scheduled to be released in May. These are family sagas in the true sense of the word--rich and detailed genealogies of one American family, the Langdons, who live in central Iowa. The Langdons are a farm family--"I wouldn't say they're prosperous, but they're getting by," Smiley tells us in this beautifully-produced trailer for Some Luck. The first novel follows the fortunes and misfortunes of patriarch Walter and all his offspring in the years 1920 to 1953; Early Warning continues the story through 1986. "They're enfolded into the history they live through," Smiley says. I myself can't wait to be folded into the dirt of the Langdon family and I look forward to reading more about them in the coming years. First up, however, is the Smiley novel on my Essentials list: A Thousand Acres. Yes, I have some catching up to do... (P.S. Every time, I start to get stressed about the height and depth of my Essentials reading pile, I'll just go back to the very kind and wise comment Ms. Smiley left on my Facebook post about the list: "When you live in an age of wonderful writing, as we do, you can't read everything, and you must pray for reincarnation as a librarian." I love that sentiment so much, I might just cross-stitch it and frame it for my office wall...or, at the very least, put it on a T-shirt.)
Monday, November 24, 2014
My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Elizabeth Rosner, a bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist living in Berkeley, California. Her third novel, Electric City, and her full-length poetry collection, Gravity, were both published last month. Her first novel, The Speed of Light, was translated into nine languages. Short-listed for the Prix Femina, the book won several literary prizes in both the U.S. and Europe, including the Prix France Bleu Gironde; the Great Lakes Colleges Award for New Fiction; and Hadassah Magazine's Ribalow Prize, judged by Elie Wiesel. The Speed of Light was optioned by actress Gillian Anderson, who will be making the film her directorial debut. Blue Nude, Rosner's second novel, was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her essays have appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Elle, Hadassah Magazine, and several anthologies. You can find Elizabeth on Facebook, Twitter, and at her own website.
My First Editor
I want to talk about the relationship I have with my current editor who was also my first editor and also my second editor. In other words, he is My Editor. Otherwise known as The Person Who Makes Me a Better Writer.
The story begins like this....
Meanwhile, back in April 2000, I flew to NYC to meet Dan in person. I’ll never forget sitting together at a conference table on some double-digit floor of a Midtown Manhattan high-rise, discussing our collaborative plans for the summer. During our very first phone conversation in late March, it had become immediately clear to me that I could trust Dan’s impressions about what was already succeeding in the novel and what still needed to be improved upon. Though I’d nervously imagined work with an editor to be intimidating and even discouraging at times, my experience with Dan turned out to be respectful, insightful, generous and inspiring. We laughed a lot, too. I felt as though I’d been granted a wish I didn’t even know how to ask for.
During the many months of back-and-forth by phone and email, Dan and I traded ideas about the novel in its largest sense--themes and structure, character arcs and storylines. And by the time we achieved a completed final draft, I could have sworn we had considered each word of the manuscript at least once; the same goes for each phrase, sentence, paragraph. The experience was exhausting and exhilarating, a challenge and a privilege. I had spent ten years writing the manuscript before it ever reached Dan’s desk, but now I knew the novel was closer to my ideal vision than I could have managed on my own.
Fast forward to now, October 2014, and the publication of my third novel, Electric City. My editor? Dan Smetanka, of course, now with Counterpoint Press in my very own town of Berkeley, California. Coincidence? Not on your life.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.
Sometimes the syllables of poetry well up, waves on the surface of the sea, and they burst as flying fish might, struck by light.
"Crossing the Indian Ocean" by Meena Alexander
from Short, edited by Alan Ziegler
from Short, edited by Alan Ziegler
Saturday, November 22, 2014
This is the one where I expose myself as a two-faced liar.
For far too long, I've stood at the fringes of conversation at parties, nodding along as if I've actually read Ulysses (or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, or The Phantom Tollbooth, or whatever). I've gone to book festivals and looked fellow authors in the eye--without blinking--and wordlessly pretended I've read their books. I have prevaricated, fumbled, mumbled and bumbled my way through this reading life, chanting a mantra to myself and others, "No, I haven't read that--yet." Or, "Someday soon, I intend to pull it off the shelf." Or that stalwart stand-by: "It's in my TBR pile."
The time has come, my friends, to topple that To-Be-Read stack and stop fooling myself that I'll eventually get around to tackling my literary bucket list. "Someday" is today. Or, more accurately, January 1.
Starting in 2015, I, David Abrams, being of sound mind and semi-healthy body, hereby resolve to begin a five-year reading plan in which I finish as many books on my "someday I'll get around to it" list. I've spent the better part of this week going through my bookshelves, my e-books, and my To-Be-Read stack (mine is so long, I keep it stored in a Word document on my computer. Nineteen single-spaced pages). I've picked, I've culled, I've winnowed. The list is now down to a barely-manageable 200 books. It's an eclectic list, with representatives from not only the standard canon, but more-recent books which I've added to the TBR roster in the past few months. So, you'll find Balzac rubbing elbows with Sean Vestal's Godforsaken Idaho (this year's winner of the PEN/Robert W. Birmingham Prize) and Tao Lin neighboring Sinclair Lewis.
Will I finish them all in five years? Probably not. Will I eventually abandon this scheme (like I did The Biography Project) and continue my regular habit of reading the next Bright, Shiny New Thing which comes my way? Perhaps (but I hope not).
I'll admit I'm driven partly by a deadline of mortality. I'm on the downhill side of 50 and the clock is ticking. I mean, do I really want to die without having read Everything Is Illuminated? Do I want the coffin to close, wishing I'd had a taste of Trollope? Bottom line: I want to finish the bucket list before I kick the bucket.
But I'm also motivated by a sense of excitement--like an explorer who's heard about the jungle all his life and is now about to step behind the curtain of leaves. After assembling the 200-volume list, my anticipation has grown even further. The cream of literature's crop awaits me!
I still haven't decided how I'll approach the list: will I do it alphabetically or will I cherry pick at random? Or will it be a combination of the two? I'm leaning toward the latter. In addition, I'm not going to completely set aside the "regular" To-Be-Read roll call. There are just too many intriguing titles on that 19-page list (and more new books arriving every week) for me to kid myself that I won't be tempted to read the new Stephen King or crack open that debut novel by the next promising young writer. So, the plan is to dip back into the long-standing TBR pool every third book or so. That way, I can read both Portnoy's Complaint and the Most-Buzzed-About Book of 2017.
At the risk of embarrassing myself ("What?! You've never read A Separate Peace?!"), I'm going to post The List here, baring my breast for the slings and arrows of your mockery and tsk-tsks. But I also hope it will spur you to take a look at your own Someday-I'll-Read-That roster and that you, too, will organize your own reading plan.
To all the still-living authors on here (many of whom are my friends, Facebook and otherwise), I'm coming clean: No, I haven't read your book....but I've always wanted to. If I've ever lied to you--either directly or by inference--I apologize. (And if you don't see your name on here, it probably just means it's on the other TBR list.) Bear in mind that I only got around to reading Anthony Doerr, Lolita, and Donna Tartt this year after they'd been decade-long residents of the neglected and undusted Someday Shelf.
To my fellow readers out there: I'm open to suggestions for alternate books by these authors. I'm pretty solid on most of my choices (Bird by Bird, for instance), but if you think there's a better book than the one I have listed, please feel free to let me know.
One other thing to note: There are a few authors on here whose books I have read (hello, James Joyce) but want to read another more seminal work in their oeuvre (I'm lookin' at you, Ulysses). I've marked those authors with an asterisk.
The Essentials ListAbbott, Megan: The Fever
Atwood, Margaret: Alias Grace
Atkinson, Kate: Life After Life
Babel, Isaac: The Complete Works
Baldwin, James: Go Tell It On the Mountain
Balzac, Honore de: Pere Goriot
Barrie, J. M.: Peter Pan
*Beattie, Ann: Chilly Scenes of Winter
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods
Bergman, Megan Mayhew: Birds of a Lesser Paradise
Bohjalian, Chris: The Night Strangers
Boyle, T. C.: The Road to Wellville
Bradbury, Ray: Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales
Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre
Bryson, Bill: One Summer
Burke, James Lee: Bitterroot
Butler, Robert Olen: A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
Byatt, A. S.: Possession
Canty, Kevin: A Stranger in This World
Carroll, Lewis: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
*Cather, Willa: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaon, Dan: Among the Missing
Chesterton, G. K.: The Complete Father Brown Stories
Collins, Wilkie: The Woman in White
Colwin, Laurie: Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object
Crane, Stephen: The Red Badge of Courage
Cunningham, Michael: The Hours
Danielewski, Mark Z.: House of Leaves
Davis, Lydia: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
DeWitt, Patrick: The Sisters Brothers
*Dillard, Annie: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Donoghue, Emma: Room
Dreiser, Theodore: An American Tragedy
Dufresne, John: Louisiana Power and Light
Egan, Jennifer: A Visit From the Goon Squad
Eggers, Dave: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Ellis, Bret Easton: Less Than Zero
Ellroy, James: The Black Dahlia
Nature and Selected Essays
Englander, Nathan: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
Eugenides, Jeffrey: The Virgin Suicides
Falco, Edward: Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha
Ferber, Edna: Come and Get It
Ferrante, Elena: My Brilliant Friend
Fielding, Henry: Tom Jones
Finkel, David: Thank You For Your Service
Foer, Jonathan Safran: Everything is Illuminated
Follett, Ken: The Pillars of the Earth
Forester, C. S.: Beat to Quarters
Forster, E. M.: Howards End
Fowles, John: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Frangello, Gina: A Life in Men
Frank, Anne: The Diary of Anne Frank
*Fromm, Pete: Indian Creek Chronicles
Gaddis, William: J R
Gaitskill, Mary: Bad Behavior
Galvin, James: The Meadow
Gay, William: The Long Home
Gilbert, Elizabeth: Eat, Pray, Love
Golding, William: Lord of the Flies
Gloss, Molly: Wild Life
Gogol, Nikolai: Dead Souls
Goolrick, Robert: Heading Out to Wonderful
Gordon, Jaimy: Lord of Misrule
Graham, Kenneth: The Wind in the Willows
Greene, Graham: The Power and the Glory
Grey, Zane: Riders of the Purple Sage
The Annotated Brothers Grimm
Grodstein, Lauren: A Friend of the Family
Groff, Lauren: The Monsters of Templeton
Gurganus, Allan: Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
Guthrie, A. B.: The Big Sky
Gwyn, Aaron: Wynne’s War
Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hall, Brian: I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company
Hamid, Mohsin: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Hammett, Dashiell: Red Harvest
Hannah, Barry: Long, Last, Happy
Harding, Paul: Tinkers
Hardy, Thomas: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Harrison, Kathryn: Poison
Haruf, Kent: Plainsong
Hasek, Jaroslav: The Good Soldier Svejk
*Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Blithedale Romance
Helprin, Mark: A Soldier of the Great War
Hemon, Aleksandar: Nowhere Man
Hempel, Amy: The Collected Stories
Henley, Patricia: Friday Night at the Silver Star
Herr, Michael: Dispatches
Hiaasen, Carl: Double Whammy
Hillenbrand, Laura: Unbroken
Hilton, James: Good-Bye, Mr. Chips
Hornby, Nick: About a Boy
Houston, Pam: Cowboys Are My Weakness
Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World
Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go
Jin, Ha: Waiting
Jones, Edward: The Known World
Jones, James: From Here to Eternity
Joyce, Graham: The Silent Land
*Joyce, James: Ulysses
Julavits, Heidi: The Mineral Palace
July, Miranda: No one belongs here more than you.
Kane, Jessica Francis: This Close
Karr, Mary: The Liar’s Club
Kesey, Ken: Sometimes a Great Notion
King, Owen: Double Feature
Kipling, Rudyard: Kim
My Struggle, Book 1
Knowles, John: A Separate Peace
Koryta, Michael: Those Who Wish Me Dead
Lamb, Wally: She’s Come Undone
Lamott, Anne: Bird by Bird
Larson, Erik: The Devil in the White City
LaValle, Victor: The Devil in Silver
Le Carre, John: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Lethem, Jonathan: The Fortress of Solitude
Lewis, Sinclair: Main Street
Lin, Tao: Tai Pei
Lipsyte, Sam: The Ask
Maguire, Gregory: Wicked
Mann, Thomas: Death in Venice
Mantel, Hilary: Wolf Hall
Martel, Yann: Life of Pi
Maugham, W. Somerset: Of Human Bondage
Maxwell, William: So Long, See You Tomorrow
McCann, Colum: Let the Great World Spin
McCorkle, Jill: The Cheer Leader
McCullers, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
McInerney, Jay: Bright Lights, Big City
*McMurtry, Larry: Lonesome Dove
Meloy, Maile: Half in Love
Minor, Kyle: Praying Drunk
Montgomery, L. M.: Anne of Green Gables
Moody, Rick: The Ice Storm
Moore, Christopher: Fluke
Nesbo, Jo: The Bat
O’Brian, Patrick: Master and Commander
Offutt, Chris: Out of the Woods
O’Hara, John: Appointment in Samarra
Orlean, Susan: Rin Tin Tin
Orwell, George: 1984
Palahniuk, Chuck: Fight Club
The Portable Dorothy Parker
Patchett, Ann: Bel Canto
Pearlman, Edith: Binocular Vision
Perrotta, Tom: Little Children
Picoult, Jodi: The Tenth Circle
Pollock, Donald Ray: The Devil All the Time
Porter, Katherine Anne: Collected Stories and Other Writings
Portis, Charles: The Dog of the South
Price, Reynolds: Kate Vaiden
Price, Richard: Freedomland
Proust, Marcel: Swann’s Way
Pushkin, Alexander: Eugene Onegin
Pym, Barbara: Excellent Women
Reid, Van: Cordelia Underwood
Robbins, Tom: Another Roadside Attraction
Robinson, Marilynne: Housekeeping
Roth, Philip: Portnoy’s Complaint
Savage, Thomas: The Power of the Dog
Scott, Sir Walter: Rob Roy
Sedaris, David: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Shepard, Jim: You Think That’s Bad
Shteyngart, Gary: Super Sad True Love Story
Smiley, Jane: A Thousand Acres
Smith, Zadie: White Teeth
St. Aubyn, Edward: Never Mind
Stendhal: Red and Black
Strayed, Cheryl: Wild
*Theroux, Paul: The Mosquito Coast
Thompson, Hunter S.: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Thompson, Jean: The Year We Left Home
Toole, John Kennedy: A Confederacy of Dunces
Trevor, William: The Collected Stories
The Way We Live Now
Tropper, Jonathan: One Last Thing Before I Go
Turow, Scott: Presumed Innocent
Tyler, Anne: Breathing Lessons
Van den Berg, Laura: What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
Vann, David: Caribou Island
Vestal, Shawn: Godforsaken Idaho
Vidal, Gore: Lincoln
Vollmann, William T.: Europe Central
The Paying Guests
Watkins, Claire Vaye: Battleborn
Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited
Welch, James: Winter in the Blood
*Wells, H. G.: The Invisible Man
Whitehead, Colson: Zone One
Williams, John: Stoner
Williams, Joy: The Quick and the Dead
Wodehouse, P. G.: The Old Reliable
Woodrell, Daniel: The Maid’s Version
Yarbrough, Steve: Visible Spirits
Friday, November 21, 2014
Congratulations to Christine Neuman, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: a signed copy of Robin Black's debut novel, Life Drawing.
This week's book giveaway is Electric City by Elizabeth Rosner. One lucky reader will win a hardcover edition of this new novel by the author of The Speed of Light, Gravity, and Blue Nude. (And do you love that cover design as much as I do?)
Here's a little more about the book from the publisher: Upstate New York, at the confluence of the great Hudson River and its mighty tributary the Mohawk —from this stunning landscape came the creation of a new world of science. In 1887, Thomas Edison moved his Edison Machine Works here and in 1892, it became the headquarters of a major manufacturing company, giving the town its nickname: Electric City. The peak of Autumn, 1919: The pull of scientific discovery brings Charles Proteus Steimetz, a brilliant mathematician and recent arrival from Ellis Island, to town. His ability to capture lightning in a bottle earns him the title “Wizard of Electric City.” Barely four feet tall with a deeply curving spine, Steinmetz’s physical deformity belies his great intellect. Allied with his Mohawk friend Joseph Longboat and his adopted eleven-year-old granddaughter Midget, the advancements he makes in Electric City will, quite simply, change the world. The peak of Autumn, 1965: Sophie Levine, the daughter of a company man, one of the many scientists working at The Company, whose electric logo can be seen from everywhere in town. Her family escaped Europe just before World War II, leaving behind a wake of annihilation and persecution. Ensconced in Electric City, Sophie is coming of age just as the town is gasping its last breaths. The town, and America as a whole, is on the cusp of great instability: blackouts, social unrest over Vietnam, and soon the advent of the seventies. Into her orbit drifts Henry Van Curler, the favored son of one of Electric City’s founding Dutch families, as well as Martin Longboat, grandson of Joseph Longboat. This new generation of Electric City will face both the history of their town and their own uncertain future, struggling to bridge the gap between the old world and the new. Electric City is a vital, pulsing, epic novel of America, of its great scientific ingenuity and its emotional ambition; one that frames the birth and evolution of its towns against the struggles of its indigenous tribes, the immigrant experience, a country divided, and the technological advancements that ushered in the modern world.
Here's some nice blurbworthiness from Caroline Leavitt (author of Pictures of You): "A heady mix of world-changing history (Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz) coupled against a bewitching love triangle ignites Rosner's gorgeously written exploration of the way inventions transform cities, hearts, and lives, sometimes with a terrible cost, and the way light nudges inroads in the darkness. Electrifyingly original."
If you’d like a chance at winning Electric City, simply email your name and mailing address to
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 27, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 28. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).
Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
“I can’t think of a more important conversation to be having....War is too strange to be processed alone.”
Congratulations, Phil, on winning the National Book Award for Redeployment, and for continuing the national conversation in such a thoughtful and deeply-moving way.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
These Living Songs: Reading Montana Poetry wrote about Big Sky poetry legends like Richard Hugo, James Welch, Lowell Jaeger, Melissa Kwasny, Roger Dunsmore and Tami Haaland, I chose a big bear of a man whose hands were once creased black with dirt and whose poems had the lung-rattle of silica dust: Butte native Ed Lahey.
“Ed who?” many of you are asking--even those of you who are well-versed in Montana verse. Don't worry, I myself hadn't heard of Lahey before I moved to the Mining City in early 2009 (and even then, he was hardly a household name here in Butte). It was only after his death two years later that I cracked open his collected poem, Birds of a Feather, and realized that if he wasn't well-known, then by God, I'd try to do something about that, in my own small way.
That's why I was thrilled to be asked by editors Lisa Simon and Brady Harrison to come up with something for this new anthology, now out from University of Montana Press. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote:
I stand at the edge of the Alice Pit, a dry, abandoned hole in the hill above Butte. Someone with high hopes once dug here, the first open pit mine in Butte. Someone with mineral lust once scooped away the soil, ears ringing with the bells of a thousand cash registers. The Alice only lasted five years before shutting down, the failed dreams blowing away in the wind that knifes its way from Walkerville down to Butte. Now it’s been reclaimed, a bowl of green, terraced like the seats in a football stadium.
I linger at the lip of the hole on a late April day. The wind at my back wants to push me into the pit, tumble me down the green scar of earth.
I’ve come here as a sort of personal eulogy to Butte’s unofficial poet laureate who, I just learned, has died in an assisted-living home up in Missoula. Staring at a hole in the ground seems a fitting tribute to Ed Lahey. His, after all, was the voice of the miner—one in a long tradition of writers in Montana who made mining central to their work. Men like novelist Myron Brinig who described Butte as “a gaudy scramble of races and creeds” in his autobiographical novel Singermann, published in 1919. In “The Idealist,” published in The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology, Butte poet Berton Braley unapologetically defends his mining town against its detractors:
Ugly and bleak? Well, maybe,Lahey also scratched beneath the copper-rich surface of Butte, but what he found was less beautiful than Braley’s greeting-card vision.
But my eyes have learned to find
The beauty of truth, not substance,
The beauty that lies behind.
Lahey’s poem “The Beauty and the Beast,” from his 2005 collection, Birds of a Feather, growls in my ear as I stare at the Alice: “empty as a starling’s song . . . / a small acidic lake / above the wounded town.” Lahey was keenly attuned to the sensitivity of Butte. Despite their reputation for living in a rough-and-tumble town, residents of the Mining City rarely stop thinking about these lakes of poison, poised to tip and spill across the already-wounded town (fittingly renamed “Poisonville” by Dashiell Hammett in his 1929 private-eye novel Red Harvest). Those lines from “The Beauty and the Beast” serve as both lament and warning.
Lahey was an artist who found commonplace beauty in the wreckage of a town like Butte. Read his poems closely and you’ll discover a man torn between celebrating the town’s decadent past and wryly, ruefully mourning what it has become.
Look, for instance, at one of his most celebrated poems, “The Ballad of the Board of Trade Bar.” The bar is gone now—a parking lot next to the old city hall marks its place like a missing tooth in a mouth that used to smile—but for the space of Lahey’s poem, it comes alive again with the kind of verbal energy typical of his other work.
“The Ballad of the Board of Trade Bar” centers around a prostitute named Coal Oil Belle who “was a red lamp legend / in a brown town.” Each night as the shift-change whistle echoed around town (aurally illustrated in Lahey’s internal rhyme), Belle could be found “behind a smelter stack,” plying her trade.
Belle is literally a colorful figure in Lahey’s “brown town”; the color red is mentioned twice and then there’s the silver-lined coffin in which she’s buried. In his poem, Lahey buries her “beneath a smoking torch”—which could refer to the lovelorn torch her customers still carry for her, but more tellingly points to the smoldering smelter stacks of the dozens of mines dotting Butte’s landscape. “In a town of misery,” Lahey writes, “one needs sentimental history.”
He saves his most bitter sentiment for the final stanza where Belle gets the last laugh. There she is in her silver coffin, “ten pounds of bone” residing in the mineral-rich earth for which Butte was known. “[W]hen the whistles blow,” Lahey supposes, “her earless sockets listen” and her hips still move in sexual rhythm “to the pocket sound / of a lover’s jingle.” It’s a marvelous marriage of earthy sexuality and criticism of the crass materialism (silver coins jingling in a pocket) that was rampant in Butte.
Lahey had an unmistakable love/hate relationship with his hometown. It is, as he writes in “Deep Bells,” a “city of tired miners.” It is also a city of “mystic mountains, blue sky, that / furls around the town, still as hesitant air.” Butte is ugly, Butte is beautiful, and it works its way into your soul like coal dust into the seams of your palms. It is a stoic place, “a place of private / struggle.”
I once heard someone say, “When I listened to him read, it was like hearing the resonance of the earth.” And yet, he never rose as large as he should have on Montana’s literary map.
After Lahey died on April 27, 2011—two days before I walked to the edge of the Alice Pit—it took more than a week for his obituary to appear in the local Butte newspaper, and even then his passing didn’t so much as raise a ripple on the toxic waters of the city’s Berkeley Pit (“twenty billion gallons and rising,” he writes in his poem “A Note From the Third World”). Lahey, the son of a miner and a former worker in Butte’s Swiss-cheese network of mines, struggled for popular recognition during his life and, it seems, even after death.
By contrast, there was a much louder and more public mourning two hours up the interstate in Missoula where some of Lahey’s closest friends— mostly writers and artists—reeled in shock and sadness at news of his death. He’d been ill for quite some time—a broken man at the end of what even he called a heartbreak life—but still it was hard to believe he was gone.
“He had the most beautiful and large soul and it spilled over into our lives,” said Sheryl Noethe, then Montana’s poet laureate.
Lahey wrote raw-nerve poems of blue-collar life, but his work went largely unchampioned by that very laboring class. He often stands in the shadow of his contemporary and mentor, Richard Hugo, but the two poets share similar themes in the concentration of their work: the dim drink-stained bar, the bruised knuckles from a fistfight, the comfort of a prostitute’s bed.
Lahey’s poem “In My Three Act Dream” describes how comfort is sought in drink (“good corn bourbon / smoking my liver”) and women (“my green-eyed girl with the apple breasts”). In Lahey’s Butte, prostitutes like Coal Oil Belle earn their wages behind smelter stacks, offering themselves under the neon blaze of Butte’s uptown district, debasing themselves for underground men, but when the end comes they’re buried in $2,000 engraved coffins lined with silver.
“The town has grown into my nervous system,” Lahey told a reporter in 2005. “Sometimes I feel like a hostage in a war, but I am glad, too.” The wind at the Alice Pit stabs me in the back and I head down off the hill to my house on the Flats where I open the paper (the Missoula paper) and read Lahey’s obituary in that day’s edition.
MISSOULA – Edward Thomas Lahey was born in Butte on July 8, 1936, to Edward and Frances Lahey, and grew up in a successful and colorful mining family, the youngest of two. He died on Wednesday, April 27, 2011, in Missoula....After achieving a Master of Arts in English from the University of Montana, Ed went on to teach American literature (and was a member of Richard Hugo’s poetry workshop). He left teaching in the late 1960s, and devoted the remainder of his life to his work. His first book of poetry, The Blind Horses, won the first Montana Arts Council First Book Award in 1979. Clark City Press published a complete collection of Ed’s poetry, Birds of a Feather in 2005. In 2008, he received the Montana Arts Council Governor’s Arts award for his lifetime work. Later in 2008, his semi-fictional memoir, The Thin Air Gang was published.
Mines are merciless and so were the mining companies who poisoned the Richest Hill on Earth while also lining their corporate pockets with copper. Lahey burned with anger at the way Butte workers were treated and that boiled over into his stanzas. In one of my favorite poems, “A Different Price,” he writes:
Topside,The mine doesn’t care. It has callous disregard for its workers. They are meat in its machine. Lahey knew this, he lived it, and he wrote sympathetically of those who were caught in the cogs—both literal and metaphoric. As his poem “In My Three Act Dream” tells us, “payday’s just a shack / at the edge of the great pit’s lip.”
a bull gear caught Haggerty’s hand,
slick iron on a wet day.
I heard him speak to it.
“Whoa,” he said.
It cut his hand off anyway.
Postscript: Lahey's good friend, fellow poet Mark Gibbons, writes movingly of a visit he paid to E. L. in his last days in a nursing home. Take a look at “The King of Poetry” on Gibbons' website--then be sure to check out his other books of poetry, including Forgotten Dreams and Shadowboxing.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.
Rancho Mirage Writers Festival. Owned by Walter Annenberg, a philanthropist, ambassador and publisher (he founded both TV Guide and Seventeen), the palatial Sunnylands is informally known as the Presidential Retreat. Most of the Republican presidents since Nixon have slept there. The Annenbergs died years ago, so it was okay for President Obama to sleep overnight there a few months before Joe and I attended the dinner party. There’s a mid-size room just off the master bedroom where the flat surface of every piece of furniture is crowded with framed photos of the Annenbergs shaking hands with Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. Another whole wall is devoted solely to Christmas cards from Queen Elizabeth (there must have been at least 40 of them). When I wandered out to the terrace, lit by gas-fed tiki torches, I found tables mounded with food: five kinds of cheese, artisanal ham, lamb chops, berries, arugula salad. Serving staff circulated with trays of canapés and hors d’ouevres: “Would you like an herb shrimp crostini with mango salsa, sir?” I stood at one of the small, chest-high tables, forking down salad, gulping white wine and starting to hyperventilate like a fish out of water. I've never been good at social settings; cocktail parties give me the prickly hives. But then my nervous solitude was interrupted by a “May we join you?” I glanced up from my lollipop-sized lamb chop to see a tall, distinguished-looking gentlemen and his wife holding drinks and plates of food in their hands. “Certainly!” I said. He set down his plate, extended his hand, and said, “I'm Joe and this is Robin.” Of course, I recognized him as the Edgar Award winner of novels like Los Alamos, The Good German and Istanbul Passage. And of course I was intimidated by my impression of this guy who'd hopped around the globe on jets and lunched with glitterati like George Clooney. The best-selling author immediately put me at ease by drawing me into conversation: “Isn't this food exquisite? And what did you think of the artwork inside the house? Is this your first time in Palm Springs? Are you having a good time?” And we were off, dashing through a maze of chatter and gossip which lasted nearly half an hour and ranged across so many topics I can't remember them all now. What I do know is that Joe Kanon struck me as someone with an encyclopedic knowledge who would give any Jeopardy! champion a run for his money.
Which brings me to the book trailer at hand....
In the video for Leaving Berlin (coming to bookstores next March), Kanon plays tour guide as we walk through the German city. Contemporary street scenes smoothly melt into historic photos of the ruined and bomb-scarred landscape of Berlin in the late 1940s, the setting for the new novel, Leaving Berlin. As anyone who's read Kanon's previous novels knows, there is bound to be intrigue and spycraft in the pages of this book. Take a look at the publisher's synopsis and you'll see it has a great set-up for a Cold War thriller:
Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war. But the politics of his youth have now put him in the crosshairs of the McCarthy witch-hunts. Faced with deportation and the loss of his family, he makes a desperate bargain with the fledgling CIA: he will earn his way back to America by acting as their agent in his native Berlin. But almost from the start things go fatally wrong. A kidnapping misfires, an East German agent is killed, and Alex finds himself a wanted man. Worse, he discovers his real assignment—to spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved. Changing sides in Berlin is as easy as crossing a sector border. But where do we draw the lines of our moral boundaries?As Kanon notes in the trailer, “Occupied Berlin was a city made for spies,” and complicated, haunted cities like this were made for kind, smart, engaging raconteurs like Kanon. I'm putting Leaving Berlin near the top of my 2015 reading list. I think I'll pair it with a glass of Riesling and a shrimp crostini with mango salsa in honor of our brief encounter in Palm Springs.
Monday, November 17, 2014
My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Lee Upton, author of The Tao of Humiliation: Stories (BOA Editions, 2014), and a forthcoming book of poetry, Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, this year’s recipient of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Book Prize. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and DoubleTake. She is a professor of English and the writer-in-residence at Lafayette College.
My Many First Times
The first time I published anything outside of school publications:
I had gone to a poetry festival in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A famous poet at the festival offered to look at poems by those in attendance. My bus was leaving soon, and so I fought down my shyness and hurried over to him. After reading my poems he said, without hesitation, “These could be so much worse.”
That was all the encouragement I needed. I rode the bus home, writing madly, in love with possibility. And the poem I wrote on that bus became my first published poem. It wasn’t a good poem, but that doesn’t matter now.
The poem was called “Jesus on a Tortilla.” This was before there were so many sightings of that sort. I thought of the poem as a simple sequence of observations. But the first time I read it—in a cafeteria somewhere—people laughed and kept laughing. The poem probably isn’t funny anymore, but the laughter I heard was so unexpected that I was startled. To be funny felt useful. It lifted people—and lifted something from them. Funny was helpful.
The first time I learned a book of mine would be published:
The phone call came from a stranger. My book was going to be published by the University of Alabama Press. Thomas Rabbitt spoke to me for a while, explaining what the process of publication involved. I thanked him and hung up.
Within an hour I called him back. It wasn’t one of those cases where I thought that maybe I had received a crank call. I called him back because I thought I might have hallucinated his call. When I asked him if he had actually called me, he told me not to worry about thinking I’d hallucinated the call. He said my reaction was normal, even though it wasn’t. I’ve always been grateful for his kindness.
Next I called my mother. At first I was so excited I could hardly speak. Then I spoke. Here’s a basic reprise of the conversation:
Me: “Mom! Mom! I can’t believe it! My book is going to be published!”
My mother: “Good for you. There’s a dog here and she’s in heat. This dog is in heat. I’m taking care of Evelyn’s dog and she’s in the garage and tearing down the garage door. This dog is in heat.”
And so on. The entirety of the conversation was about that dog. That dog in heat.
The first time I held a book I’d written:
A box of books arrived from the publisher. I opened the box, pulled out a freshly minted copy of my own book, and sat down on the floor, bewildered. I knew what books were like, obviously, but somehow it seemed as if my writing—all that yearning—shouldn’t actually fit inside two covers. I knew I was being idiotic. Especially because it was a slim little book. But I sat there on the floor, staring at the book, as if waiting for it to do something. I’ve never had a similar reaction again, and while I was thankful beyond words to have a book, I was also weirdly baffled beyond words. Could this be my book—something I could hold in my hands? Shouldn’t the book inflate and fill the entire room?
The first time I managed to kill off a character:
I don’t remember the first time. For the longest time I didn’t think I could allow any character to die. Then I looked at some of my fiction, saw I’d already done it, and realized: Oh no! I could call this book Everybody Dies.
The first time I raised a character from the dead:
In a long-standing version of one of my stories the main character dies. She kept dying through many revisions—over years. She stayed dead in a published version of the story. But when I revised the story for inclusion in The Tao of Humiliation, I couldn’t let her die again and she doesn’t. I think now that she never should have died and that I just had to work for a very long time to discover how to resurrect her. That’s one of the wonderful ways in which fiction is not like life.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.
It was a dreary Wednesday in early October when Eli informed Gladys that he planned to give up his flourishing podiatry practice and pursue, full-time, the region's elusive Sasquatch.
The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac* by Sharma Shields
*Sharma Shields' debut novel will be published in early 2015. But you should pre-order this weird, funny, totally-awesome book NOW. That's a demand, not a request....Come on, don't make me send Bigfoot to your house to break all your fingers and eat all the food in your refrigerator....Because I will, you know....I will! I have him on speed-dial, and he owes me a favor. Just pre-order the book and everything will be cool.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Soup and Salad: The Reading Habits of Authors, Finish That Book!, Joseph Heller's Long-Forgotten Musical Comedy, Is the Party Over for Amazon?, The Bad Idea Company, O-Dark-Thirty Sheds Light on Veterans, Bill Wolfe Reads Her Like an Open Book
On today's menu:
1. Tim Horvath does it in the bathtub, Anthony Wallace did it at the beach, Judy Chicurel likes to do it on the couch at sunset, and Jon Clinch does it wherever he can. And me? Well....
The spot where I most frequently find myself with a book is a small, solitary spot tucked away from the bustle of human distraction. It’s a quiet Nirvana with only the occasional sound of rushing water to break the stillness. Yes, the bathroom—or water-closet, if you prefer the more refined approach—is where I get about 63 percent of my reading done. Apparently, judging by the reactions when I posted this on Facebook (“Eww!”, “I didn’t need to know this”), some people have a problem with my personal paradise. Maybe they don’t like the image of me perched on the porcelain throne, pants around my ankles, taking care of business. But I don’t want to dwell on the evacuation properties of this scenario (“waste out, words in”); I prefer to focus on why it makes the ideal reading spot.Overshare much, Abrams? Maybe, but you should check out the "Here I Read, There I Read" feature at Bloom anyway.
2. I'm going to make a statement which may incense and inflame: If you don't finish reading a book, if you grow bored and abandon it midway through, if you treat books like chocolates nestled in a box and sample them with one bite before putting them back in the little brown paper cup, THEN YOU'RE WRONG. That's the stance of Juliet Lapidos in The Atlantic, anyway:
To drop a novel after a few chapters is, then, to disregard what makes it a formal work of art rather than a heap of papers that reside in a desk drawer. Today, books and authors need all the help they can get; if you care about literature as an artistic endeavor and the people who create it, then you should do so fully. If you consider yourself a literary person, you shouldn't just embrace the intellectual cachet that starting books gives you. Starting, but not finishing, books is one step above saying, "Oh yeah, I've heard of that author."I happen to agree with Ms. Lapidos--at least to a certain extent (I don't buy the whole "finish it for the endurance" strength training argument). Like her, I'm a completist. I can count on one hand the number of books I've started reading as an adult and stopped before I reached the last page (one of them, Jubilee Hitchhiker, William Hjortsberg's terrific biography of Richard Brautigan, was simply put on "pause" because it's such a massive book that I want to give it my full attention when the time is right). Like the Atlantic article mentions, I'm probably in the minority, but so far that hasn't stopped me from not-stopping.
3. I consider myself pretty familiar with the life of Joseph Heller, but when I stumbled across this article in Hazlitt, Penguin Random House of Canada's online magazine, I was brought up short:
In July 1962, Joseph Heller was open to any offers that came his way. Catch-22 was showing few signs of success: published nine months earlier, it was selling slowly. Heller and his family had left Manhattan behind to spend the summer on Fire Island. He was restless, worried about money, and eating enough for three. Late at night, he would sit outside on the deck of his house, waiting for something to happen. One day, something did, a thick envelope arrived with a pitch inside: would he be interested in writing the script for a new musical, Howe & Hummel? His collaborator would be a prominent composer, Harold Rome, whose latest show featured Barbra Streisand’s Broadway debut. The subject was two 19th century lawyers, William Howe and Abraham Hummel, and the scams they ran in New York. With his novel seeming more of a misfire than a blockbuster, Heller jumped at the chance.And here's the postscript:
Howe & Hummel has never been performed. It hasn’t even been published. In the 50 years since Heller completed it, it’s never had so much as a public reading. Only two copies of the typescript survive, while more than 10 million copies of Catch-22 have been sold.Do I smell an Off-Broadway revival? (Or maybe just "vival" since the play was never alive in the first place.)
4. Amazon and Hachette have apparently settled their long, muscle-straining arm-wrestling match over e-book pricing, but this article in Seattle Weekly (which came out prior to the announcement of the settlement) wonders, "Is the party over for Amazon Publishing?" It's a long article, but well worth the read for anyone interested in the current state of publishing.
5. If you aren't over-Amazoned after reading that, you might want to take a look at Keith Gessen's piece in Vanity Fair, in which he writes: "all the publishers feel bullied by Amazon, and Amazon, in turn, feels misunderstood." There's a lot more to it, of course; but that seems to be the crux of the issue in which, like that spot-on illustration shows, two armies have lined up on opposite sides of the book world. Here's another gem from Keith Gessen's article:
One of the interesting things about Amazon in its early years was the number of bad ideas it had. It was a bad idea to sell heavy home-improvement equipment on the Amazon site and charge a pittance for shipping, and it was a bad idea to consider storing merchandise in the apartments of college students living in Manhattan, so that the students could make deliveries in their neighborhoods. (The company had enough trouble worrying about theft at its warehouses; how was it going to monitor the apartments of kids?) Some people even thought that selling books was a bad idea.And these un-tame words from literary agent Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie:
The issues at the heart of the conflict are both margin and price, according to Wylie. Publishers have been slow to recognize the danger of percentage creep, he told me. “There was a European publisher in here recently who proudly sat on that sofa and said, ‘I’ve worked everything out with Amazon. I’ve given them 45 percent.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘But they wanted 50 percent.’ ” The European publisher thought he had won. Wylie stared incredulously at the memory of this encounter. “He’s a moron!”Gessen even takes us on a trip to Amazon's Lab126 where Kindles are routinely abused--all in the name of science and commerce:
Losing the fight over margins would be an immediate blow to the publishers’ profits, but losing control over pricing could be fatal. “If Amazon succeeds,” said Wylie, “they will lower the retail price—$9.99, $6.99, $3.99, $1.99. And instead of making $4 on your hardcover, you’ll be making 10 cents a copy on all editions. And, Keith, you will not be able to afford to write a book.… No one, unless they have inherited $50 million, will be able to afford to write a serious work of history, of poetry, of biography, a novel—anything. The stakes are Western culture.”
Western culture I could take or leave, but the part about me sent a chill down my spine. This is not what you want to hear from your literary agent. Surely we’ll think of something, I said to Wylie, if Amazon does win?
Wylie was not in the mood for a pep talk.
And yet he believed that the publishers had finally wised up. Not only Hachette but HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster had started negotiations with Amazon, and none of them seemed willing to agree to Amazon’s demands. Perhaps a new era was beginning. Pointing to my Kindle, Wylie asked, “What if all the publishers pulled all their books from that fucking idiot device? Then what would you read on your silly Kindle?”
But doesn’t Amazon deserve something for building the device, for making it work?
“If the Kindle didn’t have any books on it, guess how many Kindles would be selling,” Wylie said, putting up his fingers to indicate zero Kindles. “They want the books, and they want the publishers’ profits, too? They should get nothing. Zero.”
After meeting the designers and engineers, I went down to the Kindle stress-testing lab, where various machines twisted the Kindle and dropped it and tumbled it around as if in a dryer. There was a machine that specialized in tapping the Kindle, pressing the on-and-off button thousands of times, until the Kindle couldn’t take it anymore. There was a machine that sprayed a salty mist over the Kindle, because the devices are frequently taken to the beach. All of this testing was monitored by quiet, serious people in light-blue lab coats who looked as if they had once worked for Dr. No.
6. And now we move to a battlefield of a more traditional kind. The latest issue of O-Dark Thirty is now out--and, not to take anything away from the contents, but that cover art alone is worth the price of admission. O-Dark-Thirty is a quarterly literary journal by and about veterans, service members and military family members. I haven't yet had a chance to read this latest issue, but a quick skim yields some treasures:
I wake to the nudge of a boot in my side. It’s my turn in the gun.
~"Shadows in the Night" by Christopher Baumer
He spoke in a monotone, as though reciting a prayer learned in childhood, and he never looked me in the eye.
“We were in a little village outside of Al-Karmah,” he began, “about sixteen clicks northeast of Fallujah. Karmah, ha! What a dumb name. It was the most violent city in Iraq.”
~"Imagining Iraq" by Bárbara Mujica
if they wanted meFull Disclosure: O-Dark-Thirty was kind enough to publish an interview with yours truly in this issue. If you'd like to read about my Writing Habits, you can scroll down to page 103. But I'd highly advise making pit stops at some of the other stories, essays and poems along the way.
to collect a check
shoes wear a tie
pay taxes sleep
at night raise
a son teach
him how to be
a man if they
they give me
~"20 to Life" by David Bublitz
7. If you haven't yet discovered Bill Wolfe's blog, Read Her Like an Open Book, you're missing some insightful and lively writing about the joys of reading.... women. Bill is a deeper-voiced champion of literature by females and God bless him for doing that. VIDA counts aside, I know I need to do a better job of balancing the sexes on my reading list. Of the 83 books I've read so far in 2014, only 32 were written by women. I generally resist "quota reading" and go where my interests take me, but after reading Bill's blog, I certainly won't lack for recommendations. I'd suggest starting with the recent "My Favorite Books of 2014" post which includes links to reviews of books like Katey Schultz' Flashes of War:
Schultz has performed an impressive feat of imagination with Flashes of War, putting us in the shoes — and heads — of all of her characters, providing a chorus of voices telling us the various truths about the last 12 years of war. When you are finished reading these compelling and flawlessly written stories, you too will be changed.I second that emotion, Bill!